This fluffed up little female Anna’s hummingbird seems to have opted to over-winter in Vancouver. She may be wishing that she’d booked her winter getaway in the fall …but too late now. She’s here for the winter, and I feel committed to help her make it to spring.
I was horrified last week, the day we were rushing to get set up for a winter market, to see that the nectar I’d put out for her had frozen solid overnight. I pictured her tiny little frozen iridescent body somewhere in the snow. But no, she flitted by — so still alive! I had a second chance.
I put a fresh batch of nectar out for her and went off to the market. When I came home the feeder was covered in snow so the hummingbird couldn’t get at the fkk. New crisis management techniques were needed. A quick internet search brought up a number of solutions. The equipment most easily to hand was a trouble light, so I plugged that in close to the feeder to keep things warm enough to prevent freezing. That worked wonderfully for the next 24 hours.
The next, very snowy, day I came home from the market (luckily Make-It at the PNE is walking distance from home) to take the dog out. I heard a persistent clicking noise by my studio and noticed that (a) the bulb in the trouble light had gone out and (b) the hummingbird was sheltering under the eaves of the studio and looking at me with a touch of exasperated indignation.
The bulb in the trouble light had burned out and the feeder was covered in snow. I replaced it. The next day it burned out again, so I built a “quick and dirty “shelter to keep the snow and rain off it. It’s been working fine since then. As a back-up, I have another feeder that adheres to the studio window. The heat from the building keeps it from freezing, although it’s been so unseasonably cold in Vancouver this week that it’s still been frozen in the morning.
I posted my trouble light solution on Facebook and Instagram and got some great additional tips from other people. Here are some of them:
- Bring the nectar in at night and put it out first thing in the morning. Normally this would be the easiest solution in Vancouver, but this week it’s been so cold that the nectar can freeze during the day. Plus, you might sleep in …
- Find some old style incandescent Christmas lights and wrap them around the feeder. The heat of the bulbs will keep the nectar from freezing. This sounds great, and a lot prettier than the trouble light, so I’m on the hunt for some old-style fairy lights!
- Wrap an old sock around the feeder to keep it warm.
- Tuck some foot or hand warmers (the kind you get in a pack, open and shake and they give off heat for about 8 hours – available in bulk at Costco) in the sock.
Here’s a photo of the hummingbird taken this morning. It’s getting colder all this week, so I’ll have to keep an eye on the trouble light. Maybe I’ll add the sock and foot warmer as a back-up in case the bulb goes out again.
When I take these extra measures to keep the hummingbird alive, I feel a bit like a kid leaving cookies out for Santa.
That’s partly because hummingbirds in general —and hummingbirds in a Canadian winter in particular — are rather magical.
And partly because the hummingbird brings me presents.
In return for just a little fiddling with trouble lights and extension cords, I get the gift of transcendent beauty. It’s a really good deal for me!
19 thoughts on “Winter Hummingbird”
I made a hummingbird feeder cozy out of thick felted wool sweaters. It is a flat style feeder and the bottom is nicely covered but the top just has strips of felt over it as I need to keep the holes free. I also brought the feeder under the eve of my balcony as the first snowy day it was totally covered. I like the idea of the light too.
June, you are doing a great job! I worked with a well-known and respected hummingbird rehabilitator for 10 years, (Google: Connie Sale, hummingbirds) and something that helps, if you are not doing it already, is to feed 3:1 instead of 4:1. There are people who disagree, but if you have an overwintering hummer, think of it as giving her a few extra calories with every sip. There are flowers in the wild that do offer almost 33% nectar so it won’t hurt her. And it doesn’t freeze quite as fast. Hummers do ok in winter as long as the daytime temps stay above freezing. But if you have several very cold nights in combo with days that are below freezing, that’s when things start to take a toll. You’ll see her at the feeder longer and more often, and when she doesn’t leave, that’s not a good sign. Time to haul out the chicken brooder light, and set it up near the feeder to keep it thawed and her warm. Hope this helps, and good luck!
Thanks, Judy. I did make the 3:1 sugar ratio nectar but forgot to mention that in the post. It is so cold today, I hope she’s doing OK. It was 6 below last time I looked at the outdoor thermometer. Not so cold for most of Canada, but pretty nippy for Vancouver.
June, how do I PM you? I have more advice, if you want it.
Hi Judy – Thanks so much, and you can email me at email@example.com.
Then there is the story of the of a hummingbird who was wintered over in the author’s porch. I have been looking at all my bookshelves to mail it to you, but alas and alak I must have purged it at my last library donation. Happy to go look for it again for you and send as it was recently. It is a delightful story for the truly called. I believe she feeds a special high protein nectar as well as having a number of nectar producing potted plants all winter.
Thanks so much, Susan. It sounds like a lovely story – I’ll check out our local library for it. Cheers, June
i am in langley and so hopeful my little one makes it too. i’m doing all of the things mentioned, except socks. 🙂 the daily highs out here in the valley are worrying me terribly. each morning i feel such joy when i see it fly over. 🙂
Hi Erin, I know what you mean. I was worried yesterday but I caught a flash of green in the maple. Keeps getting colder every night, so we’ll see what today brings. Fingers crossed.
I have two feeders so I am rotating one at a time so the liquid is a bit warmer each morning for them as I put it out.
Good idea. Today I’m finding they’re still freezing in daytime, so constant rotation in progress!
we wrapped our seven hummingbirds feeders in socks yesterday. helped a lot (the 6 Anna’s were still battling like crazy), but today and tomorrow are getting even colder. time to set up that heated enclave!
I look forward to the weekend when the temperature goes up a bit!
me, too! 🙂
I was thinking of Cornell’s Ornithology Lab for input since I live not too far away, but they are also connected with Bird Studies Canada which may be able to put you in touch with folks who have handled errant migrants before as well. Try: http://www.bsc-eoc.org/education/urbanvan/index.jsp
Good luck – the hummingbird is lucky to have you!
Katherine (Ottawa http://www.wildhere.ca)
Bubblewrap and fairy lights to the rescue…I bought the “old fashioned…non LED lights at thrift store (value village)…used the net wrap that oranges come in, hooked it under the hummingbird feeder bowl with twist ties attached to the outer rim edge of bowl, attached it to the outdoor electric cord…it worked beautifully to keep feeder solution from overnight freezing. However as the temperature is now threatening to drop further, I have added a bubble wrap “jacket” around the lights and clipped it on with strong “bulldog” clips…I am trusting this will keep the birds happy at their early morning wake up meal.
Not sure of the feeder bottle insulation as it is at the outlet areas where it will freeze first because that is the that is thinnest.
Insulation helps as long as it’s not too cold. I now have a special hummingbird feeder that clips a receptacle holding a small incandescent bulb underneath the feeder and that seems to work best of anything I’ve tried so far!